Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Style vs Fashion

During a lunch break last week; while methodically rummaging through a rack of sport-jackets at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in the heart of Los Angeles’ skid row, I stopped short when my fingers detected quality fabric even before my eyes had a chance to focus sharply on the garment size or condition. I slid aside the hangers holding the passed-over items to better inspect the jacket that had caught my tactile attention. It looked promising.

I removed the garment from its hanger, slipped it on and viewed myself in the mirror to verify whether, against all odds, I had found a bona-fide bargain.

“Too big on you,” I heard an unsolicited, critical voice behind me comment, coming from a face that was only partially reflected in the mirror

“I’m sorry to say, I think you’re right ... and a bit too long as well; too bad, a beautiful jacket, 100% linen ... from Nordstom’s,” I replied.

“Sure is. I already tried it on, that’s how I know,” he certified. “The next one on the rack is the same size. From Mr. Guy’s in Beverly Hills. Pure silk. Too Big. I’ll bet they were once owned by the same person,” he continued his commentary while I took the jacket off and hung it back in its original sequence on the rack.

After quickly verifying his information about the next selection, I turned my head to view the discerning person who seemed to have such in-depth knowledge of the random stock.

A black gentleman, about my own age, build and height, he was attired in a dark blue blazer with brass buttons; a light blue shirt; open at the neck, topped-off with a red neckerchief; a pair of gray stylishly baggy pants with a label sewn at the top of the fly and a pair of black, wing-tipped cowboy boots.

“Great boots,” I commented; then asked, “Tony Llamas?"

“Nope. Bennis and Edwards,” he corrected.

“Bennis and Edwards? ... I thought they only made women's shoes,” I countered testily.

“So, you’ve heard about Bennis and Edwards?” he cross-examined, as though to counter my bluff, reaching down to pull up his pant leg, revealing an electric blue, upper section of the boot made of the same bumpy leather. “Hardly no one out here's ever heard of ‘em,” he added, pulling off the boot and pointing to the label. “Must have cost at least 900 bucks new. Some kind of ostrich, feels like butter. Paid 15 bucks for ‘em,” he boasted, looking up at me with a self-satisfied smile.

I hadn’t noticed until then that he was missing two of his front teeth; a realization that, immediately, reëstablished the scene of this shopping encounter back to South 7th Street, downtown Los Angeles, from this, momentary, fantasy Park Avenue venue. “Did you buy them here, at this store,” I inquired.

“Sure did. Buy all my clothes here. Do you know what this jacket is made of?” he continued to challenge my sartorial knowledge, extending his arm in my direction.

“Cashmere,” I replied.

“You sure know your stuff,” he stated approvingly, opening the jacket to reveal a Saks Fifth Avenue label with fabric identification prominently featured. Taking advantage of the closer view, I noted that his shirt was a
silk chambray and the label at the top of his trouser-fly was inscribed: Bugle-Boy.

“How often do you come here?” I probed, realizing a competitive motive in my inquiry.

“Since, I live out in Watts, mostly only about once a week; usually on Thursdays when they have half-price sales,” he unhesitatingly responded.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” I said half jokingly; “if you only come once a week, I may still have a fighting chance to find something really good before you spot it.”

The missing teeth, this time, did not, in the least, dim the flash of a wide Cheshire grin as he countered, “I’ve got a lady-friend that works back there in the receiving department who looks-out for me.”